“Stay off the moors. Stick to the roads.” - An American Werewolf in London
So, tonight I finally saw Drive. Believe the hype. And, as I just said to someone who wasn’t really asking, it was a little bit of Heat, a lot of Walter Hill’s The Driver, a sprinkle of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, dash of Death Proof, splash of Mann’s Thief, smattering of Vanishing Point, as talky as Two-Lane Blacktop, what sounds like the music from Xanadu, and because it’s the reason for the season, even some of Carpenter’s Halloween thrown in at the end for kicks. You do have to endure The Frog And The Scorpion fable for the millionth time, last heard in The Crying Game and even Skin Deep fer chrissakes, but it’s worth it because the scorpion in the movie (a childish design on the back of the hero’s satin jacket) should get a supporting actor nod for the emotion it brings. Not that the lead doesn’t give much emotion (okay, he doesn’t), but the movie knows this, and even uses his endless pause-button moments (“speak, damn you!”) to screw with the audience. But the scorpion. Yeah. After a particularly brutal beating in an elevator, I swear I saw it trying to catch its breath.
Anyway, it got me wondering where this movie might fall on my master list of car chase flicks, and, yeah, it got in there. And I’ll jump on any excuse to tinker with this, so let’s get to it:
The Invention Of The Wheel!
“On the roads, it was a white-line nightmare…” - Mad Max
Who was the first to do it? Someone somewhere slid over their hood, jumped into the driver’s seat and peeled out. Well, maybe not peeled out, since the first chase probably involved horses, unless a horse can peel out on dust. Maybe wet grass. The Dukes Of Hazzard did it all the time. And then someone started chasing them! It probably happened all over the world at the same time, just like those cave men who invented the wheel(s). See, it wasn’t just one wheel, don’t let ‘em fool ya. They always talk about the invention of the wheel, singular, but it was definitely spontaneous wheels everywhere. And if four cave men in nearby caves rolled four wheel out into the sun at the same time, shit you almost got a car! Then someone started chasing them. Then someone invented movies. Then came the list. It was just that simple. Trust me, I’m a scientist…
The Best Car Chases Of All Time. Or… The Best Car Chases In Movies I Happen To Own (so if you see one I omitted and want to take me to task, the response will be, “Okay, but that movie isn’t in the pile next to my stuffed Cthulhus”)…
10.) The Hidden
The first chase in the movie. The rest of the movie mostly feels like Beastmaster-era straight-to-cable stuff. See, apparently, aliens are among us. And we’d probably never guess this… until they started stealing high-end sports cars and rocking to bad heavy metal music while mowing down old people in wheelchairs. This is a great opening to a movie (right up there with The Last Boy Scout’s football game) where the audience is shocked into a satisfying kind of stupor thinking the movie will be better than it is. It starts with some crazed-looking business man robbing a bank, tearing ass down sidewalks in a black Ferrari, nodding along with the music and grinning wildly while plowing through police road blocks (with Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper as the good alien, doing his spaced-out Agent Cooper thing about two years early). So the audience is as confused as the cops at first, and for a while you think you’re strapping in for the greatest film of all time. And it isn’t. But for a second, you think it might be.
9.) To Live and Die In L.A.
The chase about halfway through. When the two “good” guys screw up their scam to steal drug money from one group of criminals (actually the FBI) to buy counterfeit money from another, which happens to include an utterly bonkers Willam Defoe. Turns out the deal they were ambushing was being staged by the feds for a bust, and our heroes have to drive the wrong way through traffic to escape. Agents materialize around every corner a decade before The Matrix, and it finally starts to dawn on them that they fucked up pretty bad. At least it starts to dawn on one of them. The other one, William Peterson from Manhunter and, tragically, CSI (a show that will forever be remembered as fucking up dumbass juries with a little bit of knowledge), he keeps his head, happily flashing back to his recrectional bungee jumping from the opening scene (the birth of extreme sports?) And this cop also follows the most important rule of the road: “He don’t lose his composure in a high speed chase.” Just like Tom Waits told us. Of course he can’t follow the other rule: “One-Way Traffic yo.”
8.) Raiders of the Lost Ark
No, I’m not calling it Indiana Jones and the Whatever Whatever. That re-naming was just more revisionist history nonsense from Lucas. But you almost forgive him for some of his mistakes when you see this scene. Good guy crawling all over that truck like a chimp, lots of Nazi slipping under the wheels, cheap shots from everyone. Maybe it’s more like a fight scene than a chase scene, but that truck is oh, sooo lovingly filmed and gives the scene lots of momentum. And this scene is right after what is arguably one of the greatest fist fights of all time: Jones against a big bald Nazi with the help of a propeller. What a sweet brawl that was. Those guys were throwing bombs. Fist Fights, sigh, that’s gonna have to be a list for another time.
7.) The French Connection
The only chase in it. Come on, you remember it. Gene Hackman steals a car to chase the bad guy riding on the elevated train above him. And he seems to be killing, or at least maiming, several innocent people during this pursuit. Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, the first of the Dirty Harry-type cops that swamped the ’70s, and he does a fantastic job gritting his teeth and screaming and honking the horn. And that horn is like the annoying baby forever crying in Eraserhead. The whole sequence must have been very nerve-rattling back in those days. Maybe a little tame in this jaded age, but with today’s movies you never get the pleasure of watching the cop shoot the bad guy in the back in frustration at the end of a chase.
6.) Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome
The last chase in the movie. The one where Max doesn’t really drive a train full of kids to a dead-end escape through the desert. More bizarre dune-buggies ramming those metal wheels like moths to the flame. Okay, maybe it was just the nostalgia of seeing desert + Max + wheels + Evil Village People-lookin’ bad guys and hoping that combination would still equal magic. And maybe it don’t. And maybe he’s not all that mad in these movies anymore without the R rating. And maybe the “last of the V-8s” is being pulled by horses (say it ain’t so!) but it’s goddamn Mad Max we’re talking about, so it’s guaranteed a spot on the list.
6 1/2.) Grand Theft Auto III
This part of the list is like the half floor in Being John Malkovich. This is where the Matrix Reloaded chase would be if it wasn’t disqualified for turning into a chickenshit video game (and what’s up with the cars missing their mufflers when they flip over?) But then I thought about it and decided that Grand Theft Auto III gets the spot. Simply because in this game you can take your car chase into the park with a five-star wanted level and stand on that little island and shotgun police and FBI cars out of the sky when the computer sends them flying off the bridge above you by mistake. A sweet glitch sends cars screaming over your head on fire while you just keep lighting them up over and over and over and over. Like an awestruck friend whispered when he saw it happen, “It’s like the end of the world.” So, you see, this is the actual video game that deserves the slot. Matrix Reloaded is just a video game that you can’t play.
You know what chase. Do I have to say it? Mustang Vs. Dodge Challenger. Mustang wins. This chase has been overrated, then it was underrated, then overrated again. I put it at number five because it effectively blurred the line between reality and fiction when Steve McQueen clicks on his seat beat and stabs the gas… then does all the driving himself. It’s not really a movie anymore after that, kind of like when he slapped his wife/co-star in the face in The Getaway. Things hit close to home. Sure, maybe he’s like Jackie Chan and he’s just a stuntman pretending to be an actor, but we’re talking driving not fighting so who cares. And the hell with The Great Escape motorcycle jump. Sick of hearing about that. This was Steve’s defining moment. (This just in. It was a Dodge Charger, not Challenger. I blame my confusion on years of hearing Super Soul in Vanishing Point saying, “Here comes the challenger…” which I didn’t realize was the name of a car until a decade later).
4.) Mad Max II: The Road Warrior
The last chase. When Max tries to drive a decoy truck full of sand through about fifty screaming apocalyptic nutjobs (or “Smegma Crazies” ?! if you have the subtitles on) and their colorful array of custom, high-octane vehicles. Bizarre muscle cars, dune buggies, harpoon-equipped El Caminos, and jet-powered forklifts all take their turn under Max’s eighteen wheels. Watch close for what happens to The Humungous’ two hostages when Max slams on the brakes. Oops. Sorry about the rescue, guys! The death of Max’s own beloved ride (“shoulda had a V-8!” I kept waiting for someone to slap their forehead like the commercial) is more tragic than when that tornado hit Little House on the Prairie and Charles lost his faith. Seriously though, this movie might be the most satisfying view of the future I’ve ever seen. When I tell you that I want to collect gasoline from car wrecks in cracked Frisbees, trust me, I really do. Maybe some day (checks gas prices, loads crossbow, adjusts football shoulder pads) some day…
3.) The Driver
The last chase in the movie. Camaro Vs. Red Pick-up. Cat-And-Mouse action in a warehouse with a very pleasing crunch when the mouse finally gets caught. What makes this chase so satisfying is the build up to it when the bad guys make the mistake of having the hero test-drive one of their cars with them riding in the back seat. The nameless “driver” bashes the stuffing out of their ride, scraping it against every sharp corner he can find. A beautiful, unnerving, punishing scene. Also watch for the end credits when the cop is left “holding the bag.” Get it? Get it?? I swear I’m not talking about balls. Speaking of…
3 ½.) The Driver II (a.k.a. Drive)
Come on, it’s pretty much the same damn movie, right down to someone at the end of the flick left holding the bag. But it’s better, too. And the opening chase got my ladyfriend to turn to me and mutter, “You know, this is the first car chase I’ve ever cared about.” How did it do this? By doing the same things The Driver did. Cat-and-Moose moves, slowing down, turning off the lights, almost exclusively filming from behind the wheel. The second chase ain’t no slouch either. Looking a bit like the chase in The Seven-Ups, it was fast, hectic, with a brutal ending that shows a car stopped cold is just as effective as one that explodes.
2.) Mad Max
The first chase in the movie. Two ugly, piss-yellow, poor-man’s Fast and the Furious looking police “interceptors,” a motorcycle driven by a guy named Goose (and anyone named Goose ain’t gonna last long), all chasing someone calling himself “The Nightrider” who drives during the day instead and gets oddly emotional during pursuits. A great chase and a real sense of danger for the stuntmen here. How many Aussie day-workers were “killed or injured during the making of this film?” Rumor has it that they got paid in beer. The chase, and the movie, starts kind of lighthearted, then things quickly escalate into serious vehicular mayhem. A van, a camper, and a baby all wander onto Anarchie Road (that’s how they spelled it, not me) at the wrong time. And if you freeze-frame your movie when The Nightrider is stomping the gas pedal, you’ll see a tattoo on his toes. I won’t tell you what it is so there’s more of a chance that you’ll try to find it. Also, for another free Easter Egg, check behind the CD tray on your copy of Tool’s Undertow to see a cow licking its own ass. You’re welcome! Seriously, what if this picture is hiding under all of your CDs…
The last chase in the movie. Mercedes Vs. Audi, going Mach 12, lot’s o’ traffic, a real sense of danger for the characters, pedestrians, and especially that dude on the bike that eats it. Too bad the movie kinda blows. Perfect chase though. No music for the first 2/3rds of it. Okay, maybe it should have stuck with no music the entire time, but still, this sequence is as close to perfection as a car chase in a movie (that I own) ever got.
Runner-Ups (Runners-Up? That never sounds right)…
Tank vs. Peugeot. Bit of a mismatch. Bond, driving the tank, accidentally destroys St. Petersburg as a result. But don’t tell me those teeny tiny foreign cars sprinkled all over those streets weren’t destined to be chewed under tank treads some day. And I think they were trying to say something profound about the end of an era with all the Russian monuments and historic symbols being destroyed. And the message is clear: tanks fuck shit up.
12.) Terminator II: Judgment Day
Truck vs. Harley vs. mini-bike. I think the truck plowing through cars when the T-9000 first jumps on board is better than the famous chase through the reservoir, but still lots of twisted metal (and T3 might have made the list if it hadn’t computer-faked its cars, dammit). Hate, hate, hate the kid in this movie though, especially everything he says, catchphrases or not. Quit trying to make Tex-Mex teen slang happen, dude. Oh, yeah, the helicopter smashing into the S.W.A.T. van later is sweet, too. I remember people cheering in the theater way back when.
13.) The Blues Brothers
It’s just a comedy, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that this movie always seems to be on the brink of Carmageddon.
13 1/2.) Highlander
No one is really chasing anyone, so it doesn’t really count (but I wanted to end the big list on a lucky number). However, the bad guy stealing the car and driving through pedestrians and oncoming traffic with a screaming passenger is just too much like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to ignore. The bad guy is also singing like Tom Waits, which then morphs into Queen. And Queen wrote the song “I’m In Love With My Car” so there’s some kind of synchronicity going on here that is bigger than all of us.
The Best Anti-Chases!
Just when you think the chase is about to start, the tail lights flicker in the distance and one of the cars is upside-down in the snow. Tragic because of the young lives, and, more importantly, the chase, was cut short in its prime. Sniffle. Only one of those things is really a tragedy though.
2.) Way of the Gun
The chase right around the first third of the flick. When the two guys take turns sticking their feet out and walking their cars for some reason. Not sure if it works as a scene, and it probably only looked great on paper, but it’s got to be some kind of important milestone in car chases.
1.) Wages of Fear/Sorcerer
Same movie done twice, thirty years apart. Both excellent. Trucks hauling nitro and old, soggy dynamite through the jungle at about 5 mph. The building-the-trucks scene in Sorcerer to the tune of Tangerine Dream makes me want to build a truck and die in it, too. The original is a little Frenchified with scarves and striped shirts, but both movies are twitchy/sweaty masterpieces.
The Best Movies That Are Sort of One Big Chase But Don’t Really Contain A Single Good Chase!
9.) North By Northwest
Arguably the first mindless action movie. Hitchcock admitted the title meant nothing, the chase meant nothing, nothing meant nothing. He just wanted to end a movie with a man hanging off Lincoln’s nose at Mount Rushmore. You know what it was originally called? The Man On Lincoln’s Nose. And no good chases to speak of. So why is it on this list you ask? Because Cary Grant does some excellent drunk driving.
8.) Death Race 2000
Some cool, goofy ’80s Autorama-looking rides. But the creepiest thing is the strange opening credits drawing and music. What the hell was that??
7.) Joy Ride & Jeepers Creeper
Both rip-off Duel for the opening third of these movies. And both do it better. Too bad they (sigh) start pulling over off the road and stepping out of their cars. Mistake. I hate it when that happens. However, the best double feature you can watch at home since the crazy man-rabbit combo you served up with Donnie Darko and Sexy Beast.
6.) The Hitcher
Lots of cops get killed by C. Thomas Howell and the bad guy from Blade Runner. Or is it the other way around? Or is the guy from Blade Runner just a figment of the kid’s imagination and he’s a one-man country cop slaughterhouse? Maybe like the dude that didn’t exist in Fight Club!? Actually… no. I was hoping though. “It’s a drive-away,” the whiny little punk keeps saying until he gets pennies on his eyelids. My favorite part is when the kid’s covered in gas and the match is falling and he can’t catch his breath because of the fumes.
Cool, evil, very oily truck. But it’s a made-for-TV movie so fuck it.
4.) The Getaway (1972) & The Getaway (1993)
Both versions have great moments when the movie stops cold so the hero can shotgun the shit out of a cop car. So satisfying they had to do it twice. Also, in both versions, the movies stop so the leading men can smack their co-stars (wives in real life) across the face. What’s up with that, seriously? And I think McQueen hits his wife twice. But Alec Baldwin gets hit back by Ali MacGraw so the filmmakers can pretend it’s all empowering to embattled wives and crime molls or anyone else who taken a wrong turn in a relationship and had hopes too high for a Peckinpah remake, so I’m leaning towards the original here? “Yeeesh” on that scene either way. Hey! A little trivia you should already know: written by Walter Hill, the man responsible for many an existential masterpiece, including number three on the big list up there, The Driver, and therefore, Drive.
3.) Smokey and the Bandit
You know, it’s not that bad. Good wrecks and some great crunched metal. Buford T. Justice’s magically shrinking cop car is also quite funny to 10-year-old me. But it’s a comedy and therefore it makes you long for the destruction that reached biblical proportions in The Blues Brothers if you’re gonna waste time watching one of those.
2.) Vanishing Point
Very symbolic ‘n’ shit. Dude takes “speed” then decides to drive from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours for no good reason. Get it? Speed? Get it?? And he’s helped by a psychic DJ named Super Soul. True story. Could happen. And guess what? Another Dodge Challenger. Remember it from Bullit? Wait, no, Charger? So confusing! But the real problem with this movie is the bastard keeps stopping and getting out of his car. And flashing back to his very soap-opera-looking life. Okay, there’s a naked girl on a motorcycle during “Mississippi Queen,” but if I wanted to see that, I wouldn’t have watched a movie called Vanishing Point. Perfect ending though.
1.) Two-Lane Blacktop
I know this movie is about a race because that’s what the nameless (damn I love it when they go nameless) characters said. I think. But, for some reason, I can’t remember ever seeing this race occur. And I remember some mumbling about tearing out the heater in the heroes’ car to make it faster, but I can’t remember seeing that either. And I remember some tough talk from the rival driver every time they stop for gas, but no one seems to be very upset about anything. But I do remember the cars. Bulky Chevy 150, the last thing you’d expect to be racing, and a GTO, driven by a guy the credits call “GTO” so we won’t spend too much time thinking about it. You might remember him better as the guy that fell in love with the severed head of Alfredo Garica (Tarantino totally owes his scene from Sin City to that movie). Probably the slowest chase flick ever made. And, for some strange reason, against all of my instincts, one of my favorite movies.
Some Crazy Cars That Won My Heart!
1.) The Car
Big limousine-looking beastly thing with red-tinted windows. Driven by, uh, The Devil. Actually had a huge impact on me as a child. Because I thought we were rooting for The Car until the end when the Highlander-looking tongue waggling explosion shows up and the Car loses. The equivalent of the Black Sox Scandal on my young mind.
2.) The Wraith
Early Charlie Sheen classic. Rips off High Planes Drifter (some early reviews mocked it as High Planes Dragster or High Lanes Drifter. Oh, snap!) Audrey from Twin Peaks doing her Audrey thing two years early (Between this and Agent Cooper in The Hidden, I think Lynch was watching a lot of shitty ’80s movies). See, Charlie comes back to life as a combination space-alien/Dodge Interceptor concept car. Jesus Chrysler, another friggin’ Chrysler?! Well, at least it ain’t a Challenger. So, anyway, the car, er, Charlie hunts down and kills the lamest gang since the home intruders in Weird Science. However, some very impressive fiery wrecks rolling down mountains. Too bad the car and Charlie look a lot like Tron.
Stephen King and John Carpenter rip off The Car but do enough cool stuff with the idea to be forgiven. The ’58 Plymouth Fury pulsing and heaving and creaking to restore itself is almost orgasmic. Best Cronenberg moment not in one of his movies. He must have hit himself in the forehead and exclaimed, “I could have had a V-8!” I can’t get enough of that joke. Speaking of cargasms…
Don’t get this confused with the lame-ass Oscar-bait snoozefest of the same name. The cars in this movie kill, sure. But that’s an accident. They’re just misunderstood. They really just want to fuck.
The Best Chases With Things That Don’t Count!
9.) The Long Riders
Blatant Wild Bunch rip-off when the James Gang rides out of town after their botched robbery. Slo-mo bullet wounds and backward bullet noises are impressive as hell though. But, yeah, not really cars, huh? That scene is better than most movies though. Especially this one.
8.) Hard Rain
The jet-ski chase through the flooded school. Who wouldn’t want to do that? There’s a kind of madness to that scene that I think is great. Any time you flood a house, strange things happen. Try it. Deep Blue Sea had sharks in and out of a flooded lab, opening doors, learning how to use ovens. Hell, I was waiting for a shark to get on a phone and try to sucker a pizza man. And Dagon has people reverting back down the evolutionary ladder and swimming through their flooded homes. And someone should make a movie called Hard Black Rain to cause even more confusion when I went to rent these movies.
7.) True Lies
The horse chasing the motorcycle through the hotel. That was a weird chase, huh? But the best scene is really the two Harrier jets taking out the terrorists on that bridge. Pilot: “Will the nukes go off if we take out the bridge?” Schwartzenegger: “No.” Then he turns and does this guilty shrug to Tom Arnold. That was funny shit. At least it was back when I saw it. The movie also scores points for featuring a loving kiss in front of a mushroom cloud. We’re getting off track here, I think.
6.) Runaway Train
Kurosawa wrote this script for this story about a doomed train with escaped convicts heading for a dead-end. Lots and lots of satisfying arguments and twitchy eyelids. And an oddly touching fade-out ending and Richard III quotes.
I’d kind of forgotten about the boat chase until I heard someone angrily describe the end of this movie as “the director jerking off onto my face.” So any chase that gets that kind of reaction has to be mentioned somewhere. I do like how they hovered in the air for about a year after the boats exploded though. Points removed though for Cage’s idiotic explanation of the movie’s title: “I want to rip his face… pause… off.” Shut the fuck up.
4.) Black Rain
Nice little dirt-bike chase through that farm. Ends with a solid fist fight that shows how American right hands and cheap shots from a flabby, over-the-hill Michael Douglas can defeat that sneaky kung-fu any day.
3.) The Abyss
Decent little sub chase ending with the wonderfully mustachioed bad guy getting smashed from the water pressure like an empty beer can. Question: How did they not predict a guy named “Coffey” was gonna get “the shakes”? Bonus points for Crazy Coffey elbowing that tape player when the country music comes on in the middle of his chase. I’m right there with ya, buddy.
Ever hear about the Roman transsexual? Ben Her? Get it? Sorry, but speaking of horrible high-school jokes my former classmates still post on Facebook in their 40′s… not since high school boys cranked Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before their football games have straight males been so excited and confused at the same time. You’ve all seen the chariot race by now. But how about that rowing scene though? That’s a chase scene, too. At least I think they were being chased. But they weren’t allowed to look since there aren’t any windows in the bowels of a ship.
The last word in superheroes hanging off a helicopter, bouncing and running on the tops of traffic still makes me smile to this day. I did it again today. Smile, I mean.
There. The list may change as I remember more of them. But I promised Flywheel more wheels this year, and I did my part. Stayed tuned for Issue Two, where some other writers burn some rubber for us, too. For now I’m thinking this list is done. Unless you read this ten years later from now. Boom! Time travel.
Coming soon, kids! The greatest fist-fights of all time! Again, computer bullshit is instantly disqualified. Maybe that high-wire stuff where people float around for no reason, too. Sick of it. Sick of that like I’m sick of tires screeching on dust. Like right now…